Celebrities Vanessa and Pamela Chong share their memories of growing up and their tight bond with their mother with Amanda Suriya Ariffin
IT’s easy to see where sisters Vanessa and Pamela Chong get their effervescent easygoing charm from: Their English mother Susan, who possesses a megawatt smile and twinkling eyes.
Heavy rain and challenging traffic conditions have not dampened their enthusiasm.
“I talk a lot,” booms Susan cheerfully, within minutes of our meeting, adding that people find it very easy to open up to her and “tell me their problems.” This elicits laughter from Vanessa and Pamela, who add cheekily: “When we were younger, we didn’t really appreciate it. Everyone was her friend, and we’d ask, ‘Why Mummy talks so much?’”
The mutual adoration between daughters and mother is endearing, and you wonder what it was like for this mother of six to have immersed herself in an entirely different culture 30 years ago. Susan takes a walk down memory lane as she remembers her late mother Elsie,whom Susan credits for her sense of values.
“I had a wild streak,” she chirps brightly, after recovering her composure, “complete with the leather jacket and motorcycles.”
Susan also mentions her aunt Iris, who instilled in her the importance of a positive attitude and being non-judgmental.
Vanessa, at 34, the eldest of the six siblings, is rather a maternal figure herself.
“I knew about motherhood even when I was a little kid” she shares, and the beautiful TV host says she often teases their youngest brother Sean, 21, by calling him “my son”.
The big sister role evolved into a semi-maternal approach by the time Sean was born. Though each of the Chong children (Vince, Daniel and Ian included) have their own whims and idiosyncrasies, “every child is different,” states Susan.
“And Mom plays referee!” says Pamela, laughing. Susan sees herself as being “very blessed”. She adds: “No amount of money can buy that. Don’t take each other for granted.”
Their shared memories of growing up chez Chong come pouring out, from the revelation that it’s usually the boys who start the fights to their elaborate Halloween parties — the home-staged plays where Susan assumed the role of director and producer (and the kids as the actors, naturally). “It keeps the child in you,” says Susan with a smile.
Pamela, 29, interjects: “Mum has a vivid imagination, and she’s a great storyteller. Growing up, we used to sit as a family — no gadgets — and we’d listen to the radio, play guitar, sing and do little skits.” Vanessa chimes in cheekily:
“And we actually like our family holidays!”
It’s no surprise then that Vanessa, Vince and Pamela find themselves in their element in entertainment and broadcasting, their combined repertoire of achievements ranging from singer, songwriter, choreographer and producer to presenters and reality-show participants.
And while Vanessa admits mum was strict in the early stages of their lives, Pamela adds that their adolescent years were “semi-rebellious”.
Susan says: “We’ve learnt from each other that communication is very important. Parents should learn to apologise — we’re not always right. Children have to learn from their own mistakes and parents shouldn’t blame themselves.
You’ve got to listen to your kids — it’s not always about being a dictator.”
“My kids are also my friends,” she adds. To which Vanessa adds gleefully: “Yes, all our friends LOVE our mum and want to be friends with her! They say, ‘Your mum is the funniest mum ever!’.”
Sundays are family day, a non-negotiable event, says Vanessa, adding that her mother grew less strict after the first few children.
“All these things made us who we are. We are independent adults but we still go to mum for support and advice, and we are never made to feel as if she’ll judge us.”
“Learn to listen to your children,” adds Susan wisely, “or they might want to go somewhere else.”
This approach was substantiated by one-to-one time between mother and child, remembers Pamela. “There was never any comparison. Everyone was supported equally.”
“It’s the little things, like the cards and the letters and the small gifts that mum remembers, even though we’re all busy.” Vanessa says.
Susan adds: “They’re there for me as I’m there for them.”
Could this be a case of the roles having been reversed, where Susan has done an amazing job of nurturing her children into well-adjusted, compassionate individuals who are capable of now caring for her as a mother would? This thought tickles and delights Susan immensely, who, true to form, issues a cheeky rejoinder: “I’ve let go of them but they haven’t let go of me!”
And as the coterie of women explodes into laughter for the umpteenth time, it’s easy to see why such loving families thrive.